Rule of law as antidote to religious intolerance

| A Statement issued by the National Peace Council

( April 28, 2012, Colombo, Sri Lanka Guardian) The dispute over the presence of a Muslim mosque on Buddhist temple land in Dambulla points to an underlying tension in Sri Lanka's multi religious society that is being exploited by extremist forces. The latest incident is a violent mob attack led by some Buddhist monks on the mosque in the presence of state security forces. The National Peace Council condemns this act of violence and damage done to the mosque that has caused a deep sense of hurt and insecurity in the minds of the Muslim community.

We are appalled that some leading politicians and religious leaders have justified the forcible removal of the mosque in these circumstances. At the same time we are gratified that religious leaders of both the Buddhist and Muslim communities have appealed for discussions and a mutually acceptable solution. The Anunayake of the Malwatte Chapter Most Venerable Niyangoda Sri Vijithasiri has said that all groups should respect and protect the rights of others. The All Ceylon Jamiyyathul Ulama and Muslim Council of Sri Lanka have appealed against violent protests or demonstrations.

In recent decades there have been many reports of attacks on religious minorities including church burning and controversy over unethical conversions. However, the harmonious relations that exist between the people have continued. In virtually all parts of the country there are multi religious settlements where worship of different religions takes place in close proximity to each other in a peaceful environment. This is a heritage that Sri Lankans can be proud of and needs to be safeguarded.

NPC believes that the primary source of violent social behavior now manifesting itself in acts of religious intolerance is the absence of due emphasis to the Rule of Law. Maintaining law and order and civil administration is the prime duty of the government and state machinery. The breakdown of the Rule of Law within the country can lead to a situation where persecuted groups will feel justified in looking elsewhere for justice including the international community. Wherever and whenever there are disputes they need to be settled negotiations or by recourse to the law in competent courts in the country and never by force.

It is unacceptable that protests can emerge at anytime and anywhere with people being chased away, displaced, abducted and murdered while we claim to be a holy land. In particular, NPC calls for an end to the culture of impunity, in which those who wield power act as if they are in charge of personal fiefdoms, whether at the national or local levels. This is a point that has also been stressed by the Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission appointed by the Government in the aftermath of the country's three decade long internal war when it said that the Rule of Law and not the rule of men should prevail.

Governing Council

The National Peace Council is an independent and non partisan organisation that works towards a negotiated political solution to the ethnic conflict in Sri Lanka. It has a vision of a peaceful and prosperous Sri Lanka in which the freedom, human rights and democratic rights of all the communities are respected. The policy of the National Peace Council is determined by its Governing Council of 20 members who are drawn from diverse walks of life and belong to all the main ethnic and religious communities in the country.